On Star Wars (No spoilers)

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I was incredibly privileged to be able to see The Last Jedi last night, and the leftover adrenaline kept me up rather late. I lay in bed, wondering how to explain this Force-related insomnia to my sleep counselor, while simultaneously rehashing the new movie and the eight others before it.

And it suddenly occurred to me that if, at any point, the Jedi had brought in Dr. Brené Brown for a few workshops, none of this nonsense would have happened.

 

Happy Friday. Go see Star Wars.

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Making a Villain

Have you noticed that in popular culture it’s getting easier and easier to tell who are the good guys and who are the bad guys? I’m talking about everything from children’s stories to Marvel movies to the 5 o’clock news.

ThinkstockPhotos-610969214The delineation between right side and wrong song, heroes and villains, seems to be getting wider and more pronounced. A while ago I wrote a post on vigilanteism, and how our culture is moving toward subjective truth while simultaneously pushing to enforce justice. That’s not what this post is about.

Here, I want to talk about the bad guys. And since I believe that popular culture is a window into our perspectives and mindsets (although there is definitely a chicken and egg issue there) let’s talk about popular movie villains.

Recently, over coffee and cranberry bread, when we were supposed to be talking about app design, one of my coworkers and I got into a disagreement about the new Thor movie: he loved it, I disliked it. I knew I was going to have trouble making my case when my first argument was, “Hela’s hair should NOT have been black.”

Seems like a dumb thing to critique. But here, let me show you how Hela as she first appears in the movie:

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Even if you’ve seen the movie, just look at that photo with a clean slate and tell me what you think that character’s story arc is going to be? Is she going to cause trouble or be helpful? If she meets you in a dark alley, will you still be alive afterwards? If you had to guess, is she going to pursue power or relationship?

I can pretty much guarantee that you guessed it right. As the goddess of Death, Hela attempts a coup, kills thousands of soldiers, and shows no mercy even to her younger brothers. There is no opportunity for redemption, and no question of her loyalty.

Excluding the actual psychopaths and sociopaths of the world, when was the last time you interacted with someone that you knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, had not one kind, merciful, or helpful bone in their body? Is there someone in your life who has never, not even with a pet, pursued relationship instead of power?

Screen Shot 2017-12-08 at 2.55.28 PMEven our famous historical bad guys had friends, family, loyalty, some positive characteristic. Most real-life villains, like Hitler, Tanya Harding, or the Unibomber, not only had some positive qualities, but they actually believed that what they were doing was right. Teenagers and psychopaths behave badly for the sake of behaving badly. The rest of us do what we think is right, based on our view of the world.

Stealing a stapler from your office? Come on, have you seen what this company makes in a year? They can afford another stapler.

Talking about someone behind their back? They do it all the time, and who does it hurt, anyway, if they never hear about it?

Lying to a friend about being too busy to hang out with them? They don’t need to know. I deserve a night at home, anyway.

We justify our decisions in order to make them right in our minds. 

The reason for this is actually quite simple: holding a “yes, and” philosophy is uncomfortable, at times even painful – not just emotionally, but even physically! There is physical discomfort involved when we recognize that a different point of view also has merit, or different behavior could also have been a positive choice. Holding two conflicting ideas, actions, or concepts in tandem is not pleasant.

And so we learn to justify one, while excluding the other, eliminating the discomfort. For most of us, it simply creates an “us versus them” atmosphere. But taken too far, it can lead to excluding an entire reality, allowing us to justify behavior that is harmful to others.

In other words, villains are the ones who have coped with their pain and discomfort by eliminating opposing points of view, allowing them to believe that their worst behaviors and ideas are right.

It isn’t until all opposing ideas and views are ignored that you get someone like Hela. Eliminating her pain by justifying her behavior, Hela has no remorse, empathy, or chance for redemption. She is just evil personified.

But I know that I have dismissed an opposing view because I wanted to believe that I was right. Haven’t you? Does that make us villains? Or does it mean that real villains are more complicated than simply being pure evil? And that by simplifying movie villains into only evil beings, we are perpetuating the norm of simplifying others into a good guys or bad guys category?

maxresdefaultBottom line, I really wanted Hela to have red hair. Because I think that then she’d be real, a human like you and me, with a complicated and painful set of “yes, ands,” and Thor and his brother would have to wrestle with the fact that not everyone is either with them or against them.

 

I’d love to hear who your favorite movie villain is, and why!

 

Sources: Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown, and Ambivalence and Our Wounded Hearts, a podcast by Dr. Dan Allender

Let’s Call This What It Is

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I was meeting with two coworkers this week to explain what I would need from them in order to do something they were asking of me.

For context, I explained that I have had to put a lot of boundaries in place lately in order to continue functioning. I said that last week I was so depressed that on Friday morning I couldn’t get out of bed to go to work.

It was a simple statement, and they took it as it was and we moved on with the conversation.

But as we were leaving the meeting, one of the guys said, “Hey – I’m really sorry about your…” (long pause) “…situation. I’ll be praying about…” (another long pause)

I smiled and offered the words he was missing: “My mental illness?”

There was immediate and visible panic on his face.

“No, no!” He said. “That’s not what I’m saying!”

“Well,” I said, hopefully gently, “that’s what it is. But thank you.”

And I walked away.

Now, because I know this coworker and trust and respect him, I completely understand that he was trying to be kind and avoid making me feel judged or shamed.

But I also know that reserving the term “mental illness” for the certifiably insane is how we end up with stigmas and shame surrounding things like depression, anxiety, and personality disorders.

To some of you, this feels incredibly obvious. To others, not so much. And I get that – not judging. Let’s just talk about it.

ThinkstockPhotos-535911123When I say, “mental illness,” what do you picture?

If you picture straightjackets and padded walls, you might want to revisit your definition. According to the Mayo clinic, “Mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions – disorders that affect your mood, thinking, and behavior.”

This includes, but is not limited to, anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar, and addictive behavior. Which means that mental illness is everything from needing Xanax to needing a straightjacket.

And if you don’t call it an illness, if you call it a “situation,” or really anything other than an illness, you place the source of the situation back in the hands of the affected person.

ThinkstockPhotos-621146764Let’s say I come into work with a cold. I’m sneezing, blowing my nose, my throat is sore, and my head hurts.

You say, “I’m sorry about your…situation.”

To clarify, I say, “My being sick?”

And you don’t want me to feel ashamed of being sick, so you say, “No, no! You’re not sick! Sick is cancer or tuberculosis. You’re not sick!”

Absurd, right?

Because why would you be afraid that I would be ashamed of being kind of sick? The natural leap, even if you didn’t mean this, is that you believe there is something inherently shameful about being sick.

ThinkstockPhotos-627349976But if you think about it, you know that the fact that I am depressed is not inherently shameful. I’m not doing anything wrong. In fact, I am actively dealing with my depression, through multiple doctors, psychiatrists, counselors, and medications.

But I’m still ill. There is something wrong with me, despite my best efforts. And I’m not ashamed of that or even all that angry about it. It’s simply my reality, and I’m dealing with it.

I’m mentally ill. And I’m fine with saying that.

Will you join me in calling it what it is?

I Want Adventure in the Great Wide Somewhere

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Three weeks ago, at the height of my sleep deprivation, our AC died.

I grew up without this miracle of air conditioning, so I don’t consider it a necessity. Usually.

This particular week, though, the lack of American amenities felt rough. On Thursday night, in my confused, emotional state, I was already planning on sitting on my couch all day long, all weekend long, and doing a whole lot of nothing, trying to come back to normal.

“Okay,” I thought, “I’ll just be hot while I do nothing. It’s fine.” I was dripping while I thought this, by the way. And it was nearly 10pm.

I rounded the corner toward my room to get ready for bed, and there, in the hallway, poised to also enter my room, was a giant spider.

Now, in case you don’t know me well, you should know that spiders are really the only thing I am afraid of. And I am very afraid of them.

(Note: This is not your opportunity to start posting scary spider photos and articles and gifs on my wall or texting them to me. That will result in you very politely being unfriended and blocked. Just wanted to be honest. The situation is that serious.)

Well, I panicked, took a photo for verification purposes (“No, seriously, it really was huge!”) and went to get the vacuum. When I came back with the vacuum…

…it was gone.

The damn spider disappeared. Probably into my bed.

Nope. Not happening. The combination of overwhelming heat and a loose and completely disrespectful spider meant I was out of there.

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I discovered that I’d be really great at the “your house is burning down and you have two minutes to get out with everything you need” game. I grabbed my pillow, my toiletries bag, my work bag, clothes for the next day, then I took out the trash and I was out of that condo in 90 seconds flat.

For real.

I spent that night on the couch of some very comforting and understanding friends, but the next day, my fish and I moved to another friend’s house for the weekend.

ThinkstockPhotos-507271363She had AC, she had recently sprayed for spiders, and I needed a break. So I went and laid on her couch Friday night through Sunday, basically staring at the wall, and occasionally watching TV.

But about midway through Saturday, I realized I needed to do something. I couldn’t just sit around all weekend. Something needed to happen to redeem this hot mess of a week, which culminated in a literally hot and bug-infested weekend.

I ran through some options, including rock climbing and going to a shooting range, but I finally decided to go skydiving.

See, skydiving is on my list of 30 things to do before I turn 30, and since I turn 30 in March, I knew I would have to go soon before the weather got cold. So, what better way to redeem a terrible week and a worse weekend than to jump out of a plane?

I called the place and made a reservation, and three hours later I was harnessed to a nice young man, and both of us were staring down at cornfields approximately 12,000 feet below us.

It was awesome. And terrifying. But mostly awesome.

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After

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And now, when I think about that weekend, I think, “Hey – I went skydiving!” Not, “Ugh, I ran away from a spider.”

Well, maybe a little of both. But mostly skydiving.

What adventures have you gone on to redeem your bad days? It doesn’t have to be skydiving. It can be little adventures. All adventures are good adventures.

Ugly Sleep

English Bulldog exhausting by busy day laid his head on the table to rest

Sleep and I are in a fight. I honestly have no idea who’s winning.

My psychiatrist got tired of me saying I was tired all the time, so she sent me off to a specialist.

The specialist, a white-haired, soft-spoken, South Asian woman, entered the examination room with a wry smile. “You’re pulling out your phone,” she said without preamble, offering a soft and wrinkled hand for me to shake, “because they told you I’d be a hundred years late. They’re usually right. I still surprise them once in a while.” She sat and swiveled toward her computer.

I chose not to point out that, although she had arrived promptly to the examination room, I had already listened to the Weather Channel for over an hour in the waiting room.

Her eyes stayed focused on the screen before her. She asked questions about my sleep and life habits, and she measured my neck, which was an odd experience, for no other reason than I don’t remember anyone doing that before.

She recommended a tracking plan, and said she wanted to tag team me to another specialist, someone who works with insomnia specifically.

ThinkstockPhotos-77747004“Can you imagine?” she asked her keyboard, “There’s someone who only studies insomnia. How is that possible? I do not know. But she is smarter than me. I tell you the details. She will actually help you. Her success rate is very high.”

I can imagine. About 60 million Americans reported that they experienced insomnia last year. We’re becoming a sleepless society.

“You won’t be able to see her soon,” the specialist continued, “because she’s so successful. So in the meantime I will tell you what to do.”

What to do, it turns out, is basically not to sleep. They call this a Sleep Restriction Program. After she described it, the doctor finished with, “I’m glad you are not crying. Once I told a woman this, and she started crying immediately. I can still see her face.”

Full disclosure: although I did not cry then, I did cry a few days later out of sheer exhaustion.

I have now unsuccessfully started my Sleep Restriction Program three times. The idea of the program is to force your body to sleep efficiently. You only allow yourself to spend six hours in bed each night, until you are sleeping for 90% of those six hours. Then you can add 15 minutes. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Screen Shot 2017-09-29 at 3.42.29 PM.pngAlthough I have been dealing with insomnia for several years, I’d been self-medicating with naps, caffeine, snooze buttons, and extra hours in bed. And I’ve discovered that not doing those things makes life pretty rough. The afternoon slump turns into an afternoon nosedive into a bottomless abyss. My brain doesn’t stop spinning, incessantly replaying conversations and running “what if” scenarios. My emotional stability guide goes on vacation and leaves the kids to burn the house down.

The doctor had warned that I could be irritable.

Lady, I can’t even see “irritable” from here.

All this to say, I’m learning to appreciate sleep and all it can do for us. I’m regretting the hours and hours I spent fighting naps as a child.

If this story feels anti-climactic, it’s because I’m sleep deprived. I want to be sleeping. Right now. Take a nap, for me, will you?

Here’s to Functioning

I was sitting at my kitchen table on Wednesday, catching up on annoying little life things. It’s been a while since I used my pill sorter, which has meant that I’ve missed my medication a few times in recent weeks. It was time to get back into the habit of using it, because it’s not just senior citizens that can’t remember what they took and when.

I went upstairs, grabbed my pill sorter and gathered the bottles, brought them back down, and sat back at the table. And I stared at those bottles. IMG_5208

I couldn’t believe how many there were.

I still can’t believe how much it takes to keep me functioning as a human.

I have no shame in this.

(In fact, I’m pretty damn proud of myself for the hours of therapy and doctor’s offices and hundreds of dollars I have put in to figure out how to function. I want to be healthy, and I’m doing what it takes to be healthy. If you’re in this boat too, there ain’t no shame on you and me. We’re fighting for our lives, and using the weapons that we have available so we can keep fighting. That’s a good thing.) [Steps off soapbox.]

It does feel surreal, though. How could I possibly need this much help to function?

Then KJ pointed out to me that, realistically, other people have to do this much and more to function. It could just be different from what I have to do.

It could be not eating gluten. It could be stretching out an old wound every day. It could be going to AA meetings. It could be checking your blood sugar. It could be meditation.

Whatever it is, however much you have to invest every single day in order to be the healthiest version of you that is possible, there is no shame in that. In fact, be proud. I’m proud of you. I’m proud of us.

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Here’s to functioning as a human every day, and the things we do to be healthy.

 

 

I’d love to hear about something you do regularly to help you function.

Some More Good Stuff

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Need some pick-me-ups in your life while you struggle to get the kids to school, your beach body back to work, or the boards on your windows before the next hurricane? Look no further, because it’s that time again. Recommendations from Ashleyne based on what’s going right in her life. Hopefully they bring joy to your life, too.

Books:

If you haven’t read anything by Douglas Adams, you’re going to need to fix that. Yes, I’m at least 30 years late to the party on this recommendation, but he really never gets old. (His writing doesn’t, I mean. Douglas himself has unfortunately been dead for quite a few years now.) I just finished Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, and loved it. If you like quirky, witty writing, this guy’s for you.

Another great (and less dead) author I’m continuing to enjoy: Ann Voskamp. Even if you don’t have time to fully enjoy her amazingly descriptive sentences and meaningful imagery, stop and read chapter 3 of The Broken Way. Worth the 20 minutes, FO SHO.

Movies:

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I recently discovered what I firmly believe to be the worst movie ever made. Country Crush, a made-for-tv movie about a young female country singer and a teenage mechanic, is sincerely awful from start to finish. And I LOVE made-for-tv movies! So you know it’s bad. It’s so bad, that I promise you, you straight up need to watch the first 5 minutes. 5 minutes, that’s all. Just do it, for me. Your brain will explode.

While we’re talking about made-for-tv movies, let me throw a good one your way. (Yes, there is such a thing. Really.) The Matchbreaker was quirky, funny, and cute. Basically, a pleasant surprise. And a great tribute to Christina Grimmie, since it was her only film role.

Miscellaneous:

I’ve finally gotten on the podcast bandwagon, like a real millennial. And there are some great ones out there. The one I’ve found to be the most consistently interesting and challenging is called BackStory. It comes from a group of historians, and each episode they explain the history behind something that’s currently in the news. As a young American, I fully admit to being almost entirely historically illiterate. So I’m trying to fix that, one podcast at a time. And it helps when the history is directly related to what’s happening in the world right now.

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Downsizing. I packed a zillion times this summer, and moved to a new house, so I am painfully aware of just how much stuff I own. Do I need it? No. Will someone else give me a couple of dollars for it? Maybe! And then I can buy ice cream, and I really like ice cream. Plus, getting rid of things really does feel freeing. I know they’ve been saying it for years, but turns out it’s actually true!

 

 

What are you loving lately? What’s the good stuff in your life right now?